On Saturday I arranged to meet Zhizhong at the Romantic Paris exhibition at the Petit Palais. We were aware that the gilets jaunes are active on Saturdays (and jours férié) so we checked on the RATP website to see what effects this might have on transport. The site warned that certain stations in the vicinity of the Champs-Élysées might be closed in the morning, but we weren’t meeting until 4 pm so I presumed that by then everything would be fine. Famous last words!
I allowed an extra half-hour to get there, just in case, but was surprised by an announcement on the line 1 métro that it would skip all stops starting with Tuileries. I got off at Palais Royal and started walking at a vigorous pace about two miles to the Petit Palais. At Concorde, however, I saw that not only were the Champs-Élysées blocked by police, but the entire area down to the bank of the Seine.
So near and yet so far! The Petit Palais is just peeking above the trees in the distance, but the barricades at Place de la Concorde prevented direct access.
Fortunately, it was still possible to walk along the berges (shoreline walkways) of the Seine . The street running between the Grand Palais and Petit Palais was also blocked, but the police let me through politely when I asked about the Petit Palais. I was fifteen minutes late, but Zhizhong was nowhere to be seen. I waited another fifteen minutes in the lobby, then decided to see the show anyway. (Since I had no mobile phone there was no way to confirm when or whether he was coming; just like in the old days!) As it turned out, Zhizhong had an even more complex adventure, involving an illegal taxi driver who refused to accept a credit card, so was 45 minutes late himself. Fortunately we found each other in the exhibition. (Eugène subsequently remarked that Parisians stay home now on Saturdays, for exactly this reason.)
The exhibition was quite a lot of fun, but very different from the fine art I’m used to seeing. The focus in this exhibit was on the culture and style of the period from Napoleon’s fall in 1815 to the Revolution of 1848 (which started as the Second Republic but soon turned into the Second Empire, under Louis Napoléon, no doubt the subject of the next exhibition in the series). This exhibit took an interest in the artists and styles popular in the period, regardless of whether they have weathered the test of time. And many of the art works were principally intended to show us the people and mores depicted instead of inviting us to take any particular interest in the artist or artistic style.
The first room gave an overview of Paris in this period before diving into material related to eight particularly romantic parts of the city. This huge painting reminds us of how little of the Paris we know existed at the start of this period.
George Arnald, Paris vue de Montmartre, 1822
We are told that this painting had an immense success in 1827. It depicts a young Polish page who was tied nude to the back of a wild horse as punishment for adultery. Who am I to disagree?
Horace Vernet, Mazeppa aux Loups, 1826
Update: My friend Andrew points out in a comment that Balzac, among other authors, lampooned the fashion for including this print in French households of the period. His link also notes that the boy, Ivan Mazepa, survived the ordeal and went on to become the leader of the then-autonomous Cossack state.
In 1833 Notre-Dame didn’t yet have any of the additions by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (no relation) that burned earlier this year, and it was somewhat hemmed in by other buildings.
Charles Frechot, Le Parvis de Notre-Dame, 1833
This painting of flags from the 1830 Revolution strikes me as being impressionist avant la lettre.
Léon Cogniet, Les drapeaux, 1830
And here’s a glimpse of Léon’s studio, painted by his sister:
Amélie Cogniet, Atelier de Léon Cogniet, 1831
Just one of several funny caricatures by Daumier and others:
Honoré Daumier, Portrait-charge de Jacques Lefebvre, banquier, 1833
I’ve always admired the golden guy who tops the pillar celebrating the Revolution of 1830 that stands in the center of the Place de la Bastille. This is a half-size plaster model — still pretty big!
Augustin Dumont, La Génie de la Liberté, 1833
After we closed the place down, we strolled back across the still-blocked Champs-Élysées.
Paris under siege: The Champs-Élysées on a typical Saturday afternoon.
We had dinner at Le Camondo, a restaurant that Zhizhong had been wanting to try. The room is attractive, they have a nice terrace out back, and the food is quite good.
Zhizhong and Bob at Le Camondo
Bob’s main course at Le Camondo
Pain Perdu (actually cake more than bread, but good) at Le Camondo
The service was friendly but somewhat casual, lacking the reserve I would expect to accompany fine dining. There was some sort of high-school party going on in an adjacent room, then on the terrace, which added youthful energy but was somewhat distracting. On the whole I would say that Le Camondo is quite a good museum restaurant but doesn’t offer an overall experience that justifies its price range.
The Musée Nissim de Camondo is next to the beautiful Parc Monceau, and I was pleasantly surprised to see, as we left the restaurant around 9:45 pm, that the park was still open. We strolled across it, and found it very atmospheric in the gathering dusk, despite reminders by an occasional guard to leave by 10.
Parc Monceau, just before closing, at 10 pm.
Parc Monceau, just before closing, at 10 pm.
We took the métro down to Étoile, after which our homes were in opposite directions. We naturally saved the most important part of our day’s conversation for our final parting, in the middle of a subway corridor.